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Posts Tagged ‘Morgan Large’

It’s taken 22 years for this Jane Tesori musical to cross the Atlantic. She wrote it with Brian Crawley 7 years before her collaboration with Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, recently revived and now in the West End, which she followed another 7 years on with a collaboration with Lisa Kron for Fun Home, premiered here last year at the Young Vic, and may yet be West End bound. This is a newer one-act version which was on Broadway in 2014

Scarred in an accident when she was thirteen, the 25-year-old Violet begins a journey by Greyhound bus through four states, across half of America, from Spruce Pine NC via Nashville and Memphis to Tulsa OK. It’s the 60’s and civil rights and the Vietnam war preoccupy the country, but her preoccupation is getting to meet a TV evangelist who claims he can heal. Along the way she is befriended by a woman visiting her son and grandchildren in Nashville and two GI’s, one black and one white, one protective and one predatory, both of whom fall for her as she does them.

It’s a journey of a lot more than the miles travelled, during which we flash back to scenes with her dad as both her older and younger self. Tesori’s score is complex, eclectic Americana, largely sung through, with musical twists and turns which keep you on your toes, but it could have done with less volume to bring out the subtlety and ensure all of the lyrics are audible to everyone.

Morgan Large has brilliantly reconfigured the theatre into an intimate traverse space with a revolve which emphasises the sense of travel. I’ve seen Kaisa Hammarlund in many supporting roles, so its great to see her embrace and rise to the challenge of such a difficult lead role. Jay Marsh & Matthew Harvey are excellent as the GI’s and in a superb supporting cast there’s a terrific turn from Kenneth Avery Clark as the preacher. This is the first Charing Cross Theatre co-production with their new Japanese partners, and director Shuntaro Fujita, an assistant to one of my theatrical hero’s, the late Yukio Ninagawa, makes an assured UK debut.

It has its faults, but it’s an original piece which is well worth catching, Kaisa Hammarlund’s performance alone is worth the ticket price.

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Musical theatre parody Forbidden Broadway has been running in NYC for thirty-six years in a large number of incarnations and has had two London runs in the last ten years, one even transferring to the West End. I think its a mark of respect that they’ve renamed this 2016 incarnation after the show they’ve built it around.

Morgan Large’s design is a mini-Hamilton set and cloned costumes. Most of the show contains numbers from Hamilton with new lyrics, performed by just five actors. The way they’ve structured it, about as well as parodying Hamilton, they are able to go off at tangents with references to writers like Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, spoofing their shows too, plus others like Wicked and Annie, and we even get a visit from a famous diva.

It’s great fun, but I do think the pace is relentlessly fast. Though I’ve seen Hamilton, and most of the other shows it parodies, even I couldn’t keep up, missing more than I was happy with. It’s faster than Hamilton, which is probably the point, but it’s at the expense of total comprehension. I wished it would have come up for air and given the audience a breather every now and again.

The five main performers – Marc Akinfolarin, Jason Denton, Eddie Elliott, Liam Tamne and Julie Yammanee – are all terrific, good enough to be in the show they are spoofing. There are lovely cameos from Damian Humbley, notably as Hamilton’s King George, and Sophie-Louise Dann, including that infamous diva. Simon Beck gamely and brilliantly accompanies on a grand piano. The energy and enthusiasm of all eight is infectious; you have a ball because they are.

Writer / director Gerard Alessandrini gives us a parody that is also a homage to a show he clearly loves, and a musical form he’s a big fan of. Great fun.

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This musical by Maury Yeston & Peter Stone / Thomas Meehan is a 2011 adaptation of a 1924 Italian play which was filmed twice, in 1934 with Fredric March, and in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt. This is its European Premiere, staged by Thom Southerland, who has had great success with Yeston’s Titanic and Grand Hotel.

The Lamberti family have a near miss car accident on the way home from their daughter Grazia’s engagement party. It turns out that Death has prevented Grazia’s demise because he fancies a long weekend in human form, partly to answer the question of why he’s so feared. He takes the form of Russian noble Prince Nikolai Sirki and only Grazia’s dad, the Duke, knows the truth. He falls in love with Grazia and she with him and he’s intent on taking her with him at the end if his holiday, but her dad pleads with him not to, until counter pleas from Grazia.

I struggled to suspend enough disbelief to engage fully with the story, but it’s a gorgeous melodic score. Morgan Large has designed a terrific Italian villa and Jonathan Lipman has created brilliant period costumes. Stylistically, it feels like Sondheim’s A Little Night Music or Passion; very European, very early 20th century. Thom Southerland’s staging is up to his usual impeccable standard, with a forensic attention to detail. The humour surprised but pleased me. Dean Austin’s band sounds as beautiful as the music.

Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso are superb in the leading roles and there’s a fine supporting ensemble. Mark Inscoe has great presence as Duke Lamberti, Ashley Stillburn is excellent as Grazia’s fiancé Corrado, as is James Grant as servant Fidele (who will be promoted to the role of Death / Nikolai during the run!). It’s great to see Gay Soper give such a fine cameo, as Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (!), close to her 50th year in musical theatre.

I’m not entirely convinced by the premise and the story, but it’s a lovely lush score, it looks gorgeous and the performances are terrific.

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The film on which this is based was a post-Grease vehicle for Olivia Newton-John. It was a premiere league turkey and won the inaugural Razzle Award; in fact, it inspired them. Twenty-seven years later someone had the idea of this stage musical adaptation. Bonkers? Well, obviously not as it was a Broadway hit, clocking up more than 500 performances. It’s taken eight years to get to London and it turns out to be a preposterous story and as camp as a decade of Christmases, but with its tongue firmly in its cheek it proves to be rather irresistible.

A Venice Beach artist has created a chalk picture of the muses. These immortals arrive from Mount Olympus with the chief muse transforming into a mortal Aussie woman, who sets out to help him. They go about persuading a local property developer to let them open Xanadu, a club which was built but never opened, as a roller disco. Bonkers. The music by ELO’s Jeff Lynne and John Farrar is typical 70’s pop disco with numbers like Evil Woman, Physical and the title track hits at the time. Douglas Carter Beane’s book cheekily sends up anything and everything, including the show itself. It’s hard not to succumb to its crazy charms, particularly in a full house cheering and whooping as if its a cult show they’ve seen many times before.

Nathan M Wright’s choreography is a hoot, featuring roller skating of course, including one duet between the chief muse on skates and the artist in a phone box! Morgan Large’s design is a riot of colour and includes more glitter, and glitter balls, than you’ve probably seen in one place before. Paul Warwick Griffin’s staging uses every opportunity to get a laugh. It really is rather hard to resist.

Samuel Edwards is terrific, in particularly fine voice, as naive artist Sonny. Carly Anderson’s Aussie accent is (intentionally) all over the place, which results in an awful lot of laughs and she milks the role for all it’s worth. There’s great support from the other six muses (two played by men!), but it’s a particular joy to see Alison Jiear as evil muse Melpomene in a stage musical once more.

I have a sneaky feeling this is going to become a Rocky Horror-type cult – we certainly haven’t seen the last of it.

 

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Walking into the GSMD’s Silk Street Theatre you could be walking into any West End or Broadway theatre. Morgan Large’s two-story hotel foyer, complete with grand staircase, revolving door and chandelier, is something you don’t expect to see in a drama school production. That’s often the case at GSMD shows, though – productions any West End producer would be proud of at a fraction of the ticket price. I actually enjoyed this more than either the Dominion 1992 or Donmar 2004 productions!

Based on the 1929 Austrian novel & play rather than the 1932 film (with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford & John Barrymore) the musical first appeared in 1958 but had a troubled life and it wasn’t until the equally troubled 1989 Broadway production, which transferred to the Dominion, that it truly arrived. Set in 1928 in Berlin, the coolest city of the time (Brecht & Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker & Louis Armstrong, Kandinsky & the Bauhaus, Fritz Lang & Billy Wilder!), it weaves together the stories of a bankrupt baron thief, a fast fading Russian ballerina, a man whose business is about to go down the pan, a junkie doctor with a death wish, a dying book-keeper wanting to experience life before he goes and a stagestruck secretary intent on Hollywood. Add in their assistants, the hotel staff and some entertainers and all life is here.

The score is better than I remembered it and here it is played by a full 27-piece orchestra under Steven Edis and it sounds glorious. The choreographer is Bill Deamer no less and the quality of dancing is another of its high spots, including a pair of professional dancers a match for any Strictly professionals. Director Martin Connor succeeds in the difficult task of staging the overlapping stories played by 32 actors. The overlapping makes it very fast moving, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you as there’s a lot going on. It’s often dark, sometimes surprisingly, but always captivating. Forthcoming events in Berlin are hinted at, which makes the ending a bit chilling and in truth a bit sudden.

I’m a regular at GSMD and other drama schools and though the hit rate is high, it’s rare you see a revival this good. Combining a premiere league creative team with bags of fresh talent can give you something very special indeed, and just about the best theatrical value for money you’ll find anywhere!

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I’ve been a fan of Stiles & Drew since Honk. They’re not particularly prolific, but last year brought us – in my view – the best new musical of the year in Betty Blue Eyes. It looks like they may have done it again in 2012.

This is an inventive, modern & very radical updating of the Cinderella story. Cinderella is a gay male escort with step-sisters who run a Soho strip club. Buttons is a girl called Velcro (!) who runs the launderette below his flat and the prince is a London mayoral candidate! Stephen Fry is an off-stage narrator (he was actually in the row behind me). It may sound preposterous but it works! Some of Anthony Drewe & Elliott Davies’ book and Drewe’s lyrics are corny, but for me that’s part of its charm. It’s a very pop score which may prove one of George Stiles’ best.

Designer Morgan Large’s backdrop is a street scene with giant neon signage telling you we’re in Old Compton Street, W1 which allows speedy movement from location to location. His costumes for the step-sisters are hysterical. There’s some excellent choreography from Drew McOnie and Jonathan Butterell has staged it with pace, humour and just a touch of sentimentality.

What makes it though is a hugely talented cast. Tom Milner is a real find as Robbie (Cinders). Though he’s done much TV, this is his stage debut; he has bucketloads of charm and a fine voice. Amy Lennox is just as good as Velcro, a bit dim but ever so lovable. They are both upstaged in the comedy department by the simply terrific double act of Suzy Chard and Beverley Rudd as step-sisters Clodah & Dana; brilliant creations in every way. Gerard Carey is a great baddie as spin doctor George and Michael Xavier continues to impress, here perfectly cast as the Tory ex-swimming champion with a secret. The wonderful Jenna Russell is underutilized as his fiancée Marilyn, but she has excellent chemistry with Xavier and she sings and acts beautifully, particularly when betrayed – it must be hard to provide the serious side to a largely rumbustious story.

This was such a heart-warming uplifting evening. You’ll have to accept its risque content and grossness (the sisters!), but you will be rewarded with lots of laughs and some lovely music, but ultimately a story for our times. This isn’t actually that implausible!

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Considering the thinness of the material, they’ve worked wonders at the Landor to find enough fun in Andrew Lloyd Webber & Alan Ayckbourn’s 35-year old musical comedy to justify the revival – just!

It’s Panto meets farce meets Boys Own story, a play-within-a-play that’s very silly indeed. The story, dialogue and songs are entirely undistinguished and inconsequential, so it’s left to the performers and production team to mine it for whatever they can – and they certainly find a lot more laughs than you’d find on the page.

Kevin Trainor plays Wooster as a cheeky chappie, which provides some welcome charm, whilst Paul M Meston rightly plays it straight as Jeeves. The supporting cast is excellent; I particularly liked Charlotte Mills gung-ho turn as Honoria Glossop. Designer Morgan Large has created a finely detailed and brilliantly realistic village hall in this tiny space. Nick Bagnall’s staging fizzes with the chorus numbers superbly staged (and choreographed by Andrew Wright). There’s a fine four-piece on-stage band but they don’t have a score worthy of their talents and enthusiasm, I’m afraid.

There are six producers and associate producers, in addition to the Landor’s new in-house producer, listed in the programme which I suspect means they planned for life after the Landor? As much as I admired the production, in my opinion the show certainly doesn’t deserve that.

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